A brand new survey of 2,011 UK smart meter owners by consumer-focused energy services company uSwitch, has revealed that as many as a third of UK households have had problems with their smart meters, and approximately 20% of consumers are still being offered “old” technology.
Opinions regarding the successful completion of the UK’s smart meter rollout have vacillated since the programme’s jerky start in 2008, after copious amounts of red-tape, widespread reports of SMETS1 (older technology) meters going “dumb” after switching suppliers, and a deadline that requires the installation of 50,000 smart meters per day.
Despite a ruly by government and UK regulator Ofgem – that only the newer, switching-capable SMETS 2 meters being installed, as many as 20% of consumers have reported being offered older SMETS1 meters.
According to the survey, conducted between 26 July and 1 August 2019, almost 40% of consumers reported problems with displays either not working accurately, or at all. 32% of users have reported devices “going dumb” after switching, and 13% reported that their meters have stopped functioning entirely.
To make matters worse, a third of consumers who have SMETS2-level meters, designed to retain functionality regardless of supplier, have reported faults with their units.
More than of 22% of respondents reported still feeling pressured to switch to smart meters, despite the change being optional according to Ofgem regulations, and more than half (53%) believe their supplier failed to fully explain the benefits of smart metering technology.
The clouds are lined with silver, however, as consumer confidence in smart metering has almost doubled since 2018, with 29% of consumers now believing that their smart meter has helped lower energy bills, as opposed the 2018 figure of 16%.
That awareness of potential savings has led to 38% of consumers reporting that they now turn off lights when leaving a room, up 5% from last year’s survey, and 22% now wash laundry at a lower temperature, generating a reported an annual saving of £108 a year on average.
More than a fifth of homes (22%) still report feeling pressured by their supplier into taking a smart meter, though this is down from 30% last year.
Interestingly, despite the increasing pressure to meet the 2020 deadline, this year’s survey revealed a sharp drop in reports of energy supplier attempts to install a smart meter without permission, dropping from 11% in 2018, to just 5% in 2019.
Rik Smith, an energy expert at uSwitch.com, said: “While it’s great to see smart meters improving energy habits and helping consumers to save on their bills, there are still far too many issues with the rollout which are damaging consumer confidence in the whole scheme.
“There is a real opportunity to build more confidence in smart meters now, if households are given the right information to make the most of their new device and they’re only offered a second-generation meter which shouldn’t go dumb if someone switches supplier.”
Robert Cheesewright, of Smart Energy GB, said: “Thousands of second-generation smart meters are being rolled out every day – in the coming days the two millionth second-generation meter will have been installed.
“As more and more smart meters are installed, we are all playing a part to upgrade and decarbonise our outdated energy system.”
Energy UK chief executive Lawrence Slade said: “Customers with smart meters continue to report high levels of satisfaction and it’s pleasing to see from this survey an increasing number of people are reporting their smart meter is helping them reduce their bills and make them more aware of their energy usage.
“Additionally, smart meters are essential if we are to deliver the flexible energy system that will help us to achieve our net-zero target by 2050.”
A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesman said: “The replacement of traditional gas and electricity meters with smart meters is a vital national energy infrastructure upgrade that will make our energy system cheaper and more efficient for consumers.
“Anyone experiencing problems with their in-home display should contact their supplier, which is obliged to replace it free of charge if it’s not working properly.”